Online and Face-to-Face Group Interaction Processes Compared Using
Bales' Interaction Process Analysis (IPA)

 September 9, 2005
Revised: November 19, 2005

Patrick J. Fahy, PhD []
Associate Professor, Centre for Distance Education
7904 – 73 Street, Edmonton, AB  CANADA  T6B 1Z6
Athabasca University [


Previous, pioneering studies of small-group interaction, conducted in face-to-face environments, have generated a body of literature; however, the usefulness of this knowledge for online groups has not been systematically examined.  This paper reports the use of Bales' influential Interation Process Analysis model, originally published in 1950, on the transcript of an computer-mediated discussion conducted by a group of graduate students.  The results showed some differences: lower levels of some interaction processes than were found in face-to-face groups, and an almost complete lack of negative socio-emotional interactions (which had comprised 2 to 6% of face-to-face utterances).  The group's task focus, and its emphasis on problems of evaluation (addressed by opinions) and orientation (addressed by information), were consistent with the activities of face-to-face groups, and were judged expected, considering the close presence of the instructor-moderator in the online discussion.  While issues of reliability were identified related to coding with the instrument, the IPA itself was found to be useful for describing interaction processes in online groups.

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e-learning, distance learning, distance education, online learning, higher education, DE, blended learning, MOOCs, ICT, information and communication technology, collaborative learning, internet, interaction, learning management system, LMS,

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